Extra-large Air Tanker news

NASA studies the DC-10 and 747 air tankers

(From the Victorville Daily Press)

The firefighting DC-10 Supertanker, based at Southern California Logistics Airport, is being studied by NASA in what could pave the way for the plane’s first federal contracts.

The jet’s owner, 10 Tanker Air Carrier, has been trying for some time to get a contract with the U.S. Forest Service that would allow the agency to fight fires on federal land, managing partner Rick Hatton said. The Forest Service approached NASA for help in determining the best use for the plane.

“They came to see us in Victorville with six or seven people last month,” Hatton said. “We briefed them on the plane and how effective it’s been for the state of California and how effective it could be for the federal agencies.”

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, about 30 miles northwest of Victorville, will be studying the supertanker to determine its “safe flight envelope.” The team will then recommend operational use regimes, policies and procedures for the aircraft.

The NASA team has spent the past few days in Miami, Hatton said, using an advanced DC-10 flight simulator to perform some preliminary tests.

“We hope to get the NASA team on the DC-10 in a fire environment,” Hatton said, so the company can show NASA what the plane can do.

If not, he said they’ll do mock drops with water in a remote place over the desert, hopefully within the next few weeks.

“The entire team is very excited about helping the Forest Service with this effort,” said Mark Dickerson, project manager for Dryden. “It is a bit different from our typical research projects, but we all enjoy being able to help find new tools to fight wildfires.”

NASA is also studying a Boeing 747 owned by Evergreen International Aviation.

Hatton said his company has hope that the final report will be done in the next few months.

Contract extended for DC-10 Air Tanker

Though the DC-10’s Supertanker’s contract with Cal Fire would have ended Oct. 15, 10 Tanker Air Carrier managing partner Rick Hatton said it’s been extended through the end of October. Santa Ana winds picking up and the dangerously dry conditions are rattling some nerves.

“It’s been a weird season,” Hatton said. “It was very busy early in the summer. We flew more mission in June and July than all of ‘07. But it’s been quiet for August and September. Now there’s this huge fear that all hell could break lose.”

The tanker was used to fight the Porter Ranch fire that engulfed parts of Los Angeles two weeks ago, but the plane has been grounded for the past few days. Last year, during its first year under contract with Cal Fire, the tanker flew 106 missions in fighting more than a dozen large wildfires.

Hatton said a recently completed second DC-10 is ready to come on line soon, with plans to get contracts in place for next year’s fire season.

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